Meet Andre Poulin & Family
As a third-generation Canadian farmer, Andre Poulin obviously learned a lot as he grew up, through trying things for himself and from older members of the family.
Andre carried on his passion into post-secondary school, where he studied agriculture, focusing on animal and crop science. Andre is the co-owner of Greenbelt Farms in Wainwright, Alberta, with his uncles Paul, Rene, Aime and Marc (brothers to Andre's mom). The farm was established in 1952 by his grandparents Charles and Adrienne Rajotte, primarily as a dairy and cash crop farm for many years.
Once Poulin had learned a great deal on the farm and was finished high school, he attended the University of Alberta to further his education, achieving a Bachelor of Science in Agriculture. He also met his future wife Hannah at university, and she continued on to the University of Saskatchewan to pursue a degree in veterinary medicine. "It was this point in my life when I also met Dr. Frank Robinson, a professor who introduced me to the poultry industry," Poulin remembers. "He built a passion for it in me." After university, Poulin approached his uncles about investing in the broiler industry, something they had looked at in the past but had not pursued.
It was 2009 by then, and it was easy to get into the broiler business in terms of reasonably-priced quota. Greenbelt Farms bought out an existing operation and soon owned three barns housing 40,000 birds each. "We've also steadily increased our acreage each year, and now plant 9,000 acres of grain, which we sell as cash crops and also use to make feed for our broilers and 450 dairy cattle," Poulin says. "We also manufacture premixes for beef farmers in the area."
A Family Affair
All of the co-owners are responsible for certain areas of the business. Andre looks after the broiler and grain enterprises, Paul looks after the dairy, Rene looks after maintenance and grains, Aime looks after the finances, and Marc looks after the feed mill. "We also have 17 employees who help make the farm business successful," Poulin says. The family built their first feed mill in 1994, but have done quite a few upgrades since. "This pas year, we installed a triple-paired roller mill to increase feed efficiency,": Poulin notes. "It provides a more uniform particle size compared to a hammer mill." While they had always hoped it would be a success, the family has been surprised at the extend of success they've had with manufacturing their own feed. "It has really boosted the profitability of the entire operation," Poulin says, "more than any of us expected." When asked about poultry farming challenges, Poulin identifies one main one, a challenge that's directly related to the size of the farm. "We are occasionally faced with the challenge of chick quality issues," he says. "Larger broiler producers are faced with the challenge of placing multiple breeder flocks within a single barn. With the voluntary removal of the use of antimicrobial in hatcheries, it has caused significant challenges for the farmer to deal with chick quality issues." Poulin currently sits on the Lilydale Producer Advisory Board in Alberta, which he says has been a very rewarding experience. "It allows producers a forum to assist Lilydale with issues that are affecting us at a farm level and the company is able to share issues that are affecting it at the hatchery and plant level," he notes. "This setting for sharing information, addressing issues and communicating about solutions is very valuable," Poulin observes that as a province, Alberta is struggling with getting more quota allocation, and it would be nice to see more advancement with that. "I think that overall, we're luck as a family to have supply management in our operation with dairy and poultry, and we need to respect that privilege." he notes.
As they continue to grow their land base year after year, the owners of Greenbelt Farms are also looking into possible poultry expansion. "We may build a fourth barn," Poulin says. "Whatever we do, we want to remain a family business, and we are currently in the midst of succession planning and want to make sure that anyone who wants to come back to the farm can." In his spare time, Poulin enjoys playing and coaching hockey, as well as spending time at the lake with the family (he and Hannah now have three kids: Aidan, 6, Emma, 3 and Adeleine, 7 months). When asked about what he sees as the most enjoyable thing about being in poultry, Poulin focuses directly on farming. "It's all about staring a day-old 40 gram chick and raising it into a healthy robust bird for processing," he says. "It's very satisfying." In terms of the future, Poulin believes animal welfare and the way farmers are portrayed by the public will always be front and centre. "People are only going to become more interested in where their food comes from," he says. "That's why we hold tours at Greenbelt Farms. This provides us with the opportunity to engage people in where their food originates, and how important the health and welfare of the animals is to our livelihood. Going forward, as difficult as it is, we as farmers have to be more active in increasing awareness about the wholesome products we are producing."
Reprinted with permission from Canadian Poultry Magazine July/August 2015